Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Field Lies Fallow

I’ve been struggling to put my thoughts on paper this week and they hadn’t come together by yesterday when I decided – duh! – to finally pray about it.  Immediately the title “The Field Lies Fallow” sprang to mind. Perhaps there was a reason I suddenly felt blah, creatively.

Looking to the past, I realized that I was completing a personal “40 years in the wilderness” this month.  In May of 1974, I decisively put my foot on the path of a Christian, having received my first answer to prayer and making a real change in lifestyle. Those 40 years were spent reconciling my three identities:  Iowa school girl, New England hippie, and Utah Mormon. It’s been a long trek, punctuated with many blessings, certainly, but also almost constant adversity. Just as the ancient Israelites had to leave Egypt and wander 40 years in the desert of Sinai, to lose its worldly ways, I had to learn to live by Christian principles through the things I experienced.

Looking to the future, I sense new directions on the horizon. I’ve just completed a massive reorganization of my home. I doubled, maybe tripled my energy level by using St. John’s Wort for seasonal fatigue and probiotics for improved digestion. I was excited to expand my writing online, find new real estate clients, and return to family history research.

Coincidentally, my Sunday School lesson last week was about Joshua as Moses’ successor and how he prepared the 12 tribes of Israel for the new challenge of entering, then conquering the Promised Land of Canaan. If they would study and ponder the ancient scriptures, rededicate themselves spiritually, then exercise faith and courage, the Lord promised Joshua and all Israel:

“As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.(Joshua 1:5)

His first challenge soon appeared. Joshua and the Priesthood of Israel had to hold back the waters of the Jordan River for the Israelites to cross over on dry ground, then they conquered Jericho, not through human strength but by obeying instructions from the Lord that must have seemed crazy (walk around the city blowing a trumpet for six days, then seven times on the seventh day, finally giving a loud shout), from Joshua 6.  The Israelites had prepared inwardly and then triumphed outwardly as the walls of Jericho all fell down at their shout.

What are the odds that I would be assigned this particular lesson that so closely mirrored my own path? I felt deeply touched and reassured I would have God’s support in whatever lay ahead. How often are we all faced with a new chapter or challenge in our lives, must “gird up our loins” with greater faith, and step into darkness with courage? I think that Joshua’s promise holds true for all people who sincerely seek after what’s good and true.

Finally, I remembered a lovely book, The Faithful Gardener by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. (See my review under Books.) Her opening quote says:

New seed is faithful. It roots deepest in the places that are most empty.

I realized that I wasn’t giving myself time to become empty or “lie fallow” so I could mediate, rededicate, and renew myself. I will slow down in the coming weeks and let the future creep up on me the way plants come back after a forest fire or grass emerges each spring.

Whether your journey changes course through a happy change or through fiery adversity, good can always arise from those ashes.  Ms. Estés concludes with A Prayer:

Refuse to fall down.
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart towards heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled,
And it will be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you
from lifting your heart
toward heaven –
only you.
It is in the middle of misery
that so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good
came of this,
is not yet listening.

Fallow Field Courtesy Image 140589

The Field Lies Fallow
Courtesy Image 140589

Speaking My Truth in Love

I recently had the opportunity to revisit old emotional patterns by reconnecting with someone from my past. Good memories surfaced along with anxiety about being misunderstood. I was also worried that I would revert to my childhood ways, fearfully holding back my inner self until, in frustration, I would express myself either harshly or in tears.

During my years in education, I learned that losing emotional control causes a loss of personal power. The person who stays calm and rational can prevent an ugly argument and open pathways of understanding. As I applied this in my own life, I made steady progress in self-control. It was disheartening now to see myself go backward.

Needing a break from my worries and normal Saturday morning chores, I found a wonderful documentary on PBS, E Haku Inoa – To Weave a Name, about a daughter reconnecting with her Hawaiian mother, separated from childhood. It was a rocky road for both, with healing and forgiveness only coming from honest sharing over an extended period of time. The daughter finally learned the meaning of her Hawaiian name and reconnected with her lost heritage in the process.

It was poetic and the island rhythms gently unlocked my own feelings. Without warning, they overflowed into cleansing tears. My anxiety washed away and confidence returned. I was stunned at the “tender mercies of the Lord” in bringing these lovely people into my living room just at the moment I needed them.

 Hawaiian Beach Courtesy

Hawaiian Beach

I remembered the following scripture:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together . . .  maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)

That’s what I think we all want, being “fitly joined together” in understanding and harmony, edified about each other in love. I also believe we each occupy a sacred space in the universe, and we must define and protect it. Speaking truthfully, but lovingly, is how we do that. Besides, holding that truth inside without expression creates a gulf between people and condemns us to loneliness and isolation. We can’t really connect without revealing who we are.

It’s scary to open up the tender places within and put them out there for others to affirm, ignore, or reject, because we often don’t know which it will be. But I believe that the increased closeness that comes is ample reward for exercising just a little courage and tact. It’s worked for me in the past, and I’m hopeful it will continue to do so now.

Perhaps you should try not suffering in silence but with inspiration and gentleness, “speak your own truth in love.”

Moms and Sparrows

Bird feeders are a tradition in my family.  My grandfather was an expert on the birds of eastern Iowa.  We had a feeder right outside the kitchen window growing up and delighted in watching cardinals, blue jays, chickadees and sparrows come to feed.  My daughter gave me the feeder she could no longer use, and I hung it above my back patio.  I enjoy the dapper juncos who come only in the winter and the sparrows, wrens and mourning doves who come in the warm months with their lively chatter and carefree life.

Last July I noticed something new.  While perched on the feeder, some of the sparrows were putting seeds directly into the mouths of the birds next to them.  Then I realized that those were their fledgling babies, and they were teaching them how to find and eat their own food.  What a treat to witness this annual event – and what a testament to devoted motherhood.

© Sander van der Wel 2010 Courtesy of

© Sander van der Wel 2010
Courtesy of

On Mother’s Day, I remembered those sparrows and then my own departed Mom. I was thankful for the many wonderful meals and good talks we shared.

I was asked to speak in church for this occasion, so I rolled out a favorite fictional woman: Dorothea Brooksa frustrated idealist who never had any great achievements.  She was a lead character in Middlemarch, an English novel set in the 1800’s and then a PBS Masterpiece Classic.  The narrator ended by saying:

Dorothea had no dreams of being praised above other women, feeling that there was always something better that she might have done if she’d only been better and known better.  Her full nature spent itself in deeds which left no great name on the earth but the effect of her being on those around her was incalculable.  For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts and all those Dorotheas who live faithfully their hidden lives and rest in unvisited tombs . . . . 

My mother was the opposite, a celebrated portrait artist whose hundreds of paintings graced many homes and public buildings, blessing countless lives. But her children don’t remember all those paintings nearly as much as her vibrant spirit, high standards, and great heart. She truly was the heart and center of our home. Right after her funeral when the family was gathered with Dad at their house, God’s Spirit suddenly opened my mind. I could actually see her vibrant energy literally living on in all of us as well as our children, each in our own way.

I think most of us leave very little mark on the outer world and are more like the humble sparrow feeding her babies one seed at a time.  But I also think we leave indelible hand prints on the lives and hearts of our descendants and thereby make a very real contribution to “the growing good of the world.”

Just “Bozos on the Bus”

Lately, I let anxiety about the future creep into my thoughts – in spite of much preparation and reassurance from God that I’ll be cared for. Additionally, I was worried for my family.  It was a lot like the old saying, “The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”  In this case, I consciously thought I was exercising faith and feeling serenity but actually I wasn’t watching worries build up in my subconscious until they spilled over to overwhelm that faith and my daily effectiveness.

After days of trying to exert my own mental powers and failing to change course, I decided – duh! – to ask for a priesthood blessing from my home teachers.  They patiently listened to my concerns, then proceeded to lay their hands on my head and give me inspired counsel:  I would be cared for, be physically and spiritually safe, and my family’s spiritual path was safely in His hands – I could let go and trust Him.  It felt like unseen fingers reached into my brain and rearranged my thoughts, like the direction to “correct the seasoning” at the end of many recipes.  It was gentle, deep, and very reassuring.

The next day I remembered a saying:

 “We are all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

I looked it up and found that Wavy Gravy said it at Woodstock in 1969, then Elizabeth Lesser commented on it in her book Broken Open which is where I originally read it.  That made me think of The Muppet Movie which is on my list of favorites – goofy guys bumping along the road of life. I needed to be more like them, more childlike:

 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:2-3)

To drive the point home, Heavenly Father sent the following experience.  Monday night was a lovely balmy evening and I was sitting in my living room with the windows open, reading.  I suddenly became aware of the echoing of bird song through the trees, the scent of my newly picked lilacs, and an intense recollection of being a child exploring my grandparents’ yard and the ravine beyond it.  I loved exploring the lush greenery.  There were lilies of the valley in the shade along the garage wall and masses of phlox along the edge of the yard.  The ravine hid many other treasures:  lacy ferns, dainty white anemone, and the mysterious Jack-in-the-Pulpit shyly hiding in the shade. Owls and toads lived there.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

This was more than a memory, I actually re-experienced being a carefree child.  What a wonderful way to bring home the advice given in my blessing.  It lasted about an hour and sealed this lesson in my soul.

Now when I go out for walks, I notice the plants and birds more, and my own thoughts less.  I don’t know one iota more about the future than I did, but since I’ve done all I can to prepare, I don’t need to know. I’m too busy enjoying the present.